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Report on Vitacress Conservation Trust Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

Report on Vitacress Conservation Trust Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum held on 6th November 2015 by Moya Grove

Lady Wakeham, Patron of the Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT), welcomed a packed hall of experts and enthusiasts to the Vitacress Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum at Sparsholt College for the 10th year. Experienced anglers mingled with professors and researchers and stakeholders. Vital information was exchanged and essential networking was deliberately allowed to delay the start of a day of fascinating talks. Everyone there had one aim, to support and sustain the health of our vital and globally rare chalk streams. There are only 200 chalk streams in the world, 160 are in England and only 17% are in good condition.

So that we better understand the biology and chemistry, research is essential and VCT has a role here. It says much for Vitacress that the VCT funds and showcases such research and provides this excellent forum for exchange.

Gail Taylor, Professor at Southampton University, updated us both on the research into phosphate concentrations in the Bourne rivulet, and her work into increasing the intensive sustainability of the watercress “superfood” by gene selection of varieties which confer chosen health benefits. Both are VCT funded.

Graham Roberts, retiring director of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWT) spoke passionately about the Upper Itchen Initiative. The protection of biodiversity here, as everywhere, depends on the water quality. Changes in abstraction and pollution by phosphates (both from our septic tanks into ground water and from our dishwashers and washing machines) damage the river.

Martin de Retuerto (HIWT) also spoke passionately, emphasising that if we do not give the environment a fiscal value it will continue to degrade. Sustainability has to be environmentally and socially as well as economically appropriate. For instance if we took into consideration the financial benefits of reconnecting rivers with their flood plains - approximately £2.5-5.7 billion pounds in damage saved - there would be no call to put in expensive, hard and inefficient flood defences. The wildlife benefits would be enormous.

Kerry Sims of the Environment Agency (EA) gave an astonishing résumé of the variety and complexity of the work they are required to do to control the pressures on rivers and to restore them. It left us all feeling that in order to do the necessary work twice the work force should be employed not the diminishing number of employees now.

Most moving was William Daniel’s talk on famous fishing. He reminded us of the long history and cultural significance of these bright waters, famous around the world for fly fishing; iconic even in Tim Nevard’s home of Australia. This beloved sport is not just for the rich, but for anyone who can buy an afternoon’s fishing.

It was a useful day for me as the CPRE Hampshire water representative that I was invited to represent the branch on the Upper Itchen Initiative (UII) panel and to meet with Tim Sykes of the EA to be updated on the progress of Southern Water’s plan to increase water resources for South Hampshire. This involves increased abstraction from the lower Test, and other worrying changes on the Upper Itchen. Look out for reports on these meetings.

The whole day emphasised our personal responsibility in choosing low phosphate products if we are not to kill our rivers’ wildlife. We should reduce our water use too because care of our vital aquifers which feed the rivers is essential. It also made clear that strong messages need to go to decision makers in this time of cuts and economic short term priorities, that the environment long term is crucial to our physical and economic health and survival.

Moya Grove
10 November 2015


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